Emotional day for shark victim's brother 50 years after he was killed

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Article written by Ian Stuart on behalf of St Clair SLSC.

Alan Jordan had a few emotional words for his brother Les at his Dunedin gravesite, 50 years after he was killed in a brutal shark attack at the city's picturesque St Clair beach.

"I said to Les, okay mate, they're having a race down at the beach and there's a trophy being presented for you. You'll be able to see it from here," Mr Jordan, 65, told Les at the Andersons Bay Cemetery which overlooks the beach, on Friday.

It was a testing moment emotionally for Mr Jordan and his wife Pam, as they visited the gravesite the day before they and they two Christchurch lifeguards who rescued his brother from the bloody waters off St Clair, were special guests at the St Clair Surf Lifesaving Club's annual White Island race yesterday (Sat).

He was 15 when his brother died in the brutal shark attack which shocked the nation.

The three men had not met since they were pallbearers at 19-year-old Les' funeral in 1964, a few days after  the two Christchurch lifeguards who had brought him ashore as he bled heavily from the bloody stump of what was left of his right leg.

Les Jordan died on February 5, 1964, in spite of the desperate efforts of Ian Graham, now 75, and Sandy McDowell, 68, lifeguards from the Waimairi Surf Lifesaving Club, to get him ashore for help.

As they brought him ashore they were followed in by two sharks. Les Jordan was thought to be dead by the time they reached the beach. Both men were awarded four bravery awards, including the George Medal, one of the Commonwealth's highest bravery awards.

Mr Jordan, Mr Graham and Mr McDowell, jointly presented a memorial trophy honouring Les Jordan and recognising the contribution his family had made to surf lifesaving in New Zealand. The trophy was made from an Australian hardwood pile installed at the beach more than 100 years ago as part of a seawall to stop sand erosion. It was presented to Mt Maunganui's Andrew Newton, the first board paddler home in the St Clair Surf Lifesaving Club's annual race around the craggy and windswept White Island, 2.5km off St Clair beach.

The emotions continued at the race prize giving ceremony at the surf club when the three men were introduced by St Clair surf club member, Graeme Newton, whose son Andrew was the inaugural winner of the memorial trophy. Mr Newton competed today for St Clair in a four-person surf canoe.

"Fifty years ago this club faced its darkest day," Mr Newton told a very quiet crowd in an emotional address which had many in tears.

He knew the young 19-year-old lifeguard and said his loss was an absolute tragedy.

"But that tragedy produced a heart-stopping display of bravery," Mr Newton said of the rescue as he struggled with his emotions.

"He was finding it really hard," Mr Jordan later said. "He was very emotional when he spoke."

Rescuers Ian Graham and Sandy McDowell said they still both felt the emotion of Les Jordan's death, even after 50 years.

"There were a couple of occasions when I had to catch my breath," said Mr Graham. "It brought everything back. Maybe it was closure," said Mr Graham who said he still felt the frustration of not being able to do more to save the young lifeguard's life.

Mr McDowell said the visit was the first time he had visited the scene of the tragedy for nearly 50  years. He studied at the University of Otago for four years and only visited the beach occasionally.

Today's race, the forty-sixth, attracted record entries with crews from Mt Maunganui, Christchurch and Dunedin.

The race also included a 74-year-old St Clair lifeguard, Bart Smaill, believed to be the oldest competitor to have done the race. He paddled a surf ski.